Joe Biden, Truth-teller
From The Scrapbook
Oct 17, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 05 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
What is galling is the reluctance of his publisher, HarperOne, to admit that. The Scrapbook was struck by the way the word “authorized” is used not just as a description of the book but blazoned right across the cover as a kind of sales pitch. Back in the 1980s, when the Rev. Tutu was speaking truth to power and his backers among the 1968 generation were assuming their positions at the commanding heights of government and society, the claim of a biography to be “authorized” was totally out of fashion. It reeked of a corrupt bargain whereby some plutocratic eminence (or his estate) bartered a collection of vital archives to an on-the-make scholar in exchange for a favorable report to posterity. It was the sort of fuddy-duddy indulgence that the likes of Carter and Geldof and Santana promised to do away with.
While the moral stakes of dismantling apartheid were clear, the right course of action was not. If it had been, there would have been a Nelson Mandela on every street corner. At the height of the Cold War, South Africa was a complex and delicate problem. The word “authorized” in Tutu’s biography constitutes a promise to the reader that he will encounter none of that complexity. Can you imagine the howls if some anti-Communist activist of the 1980s—Vladimir Bukovsky, say, or Armando Valladares—were the subject of a don’t-you-dare-say-anything-skeptical-about-him biography like Tutu: Authorized? “Authorized”—the word is worth a thousand pictures.
Looking at photos of the motley crew of Wall Street protesters last week, The Scrapbook was reminded of Marion Magid’s deathless quip about an earlier generation of such “activists.” Norman Podhoretz memorably told the story in his 2002 Francis Boyer Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute:
As Podhoretz went on to point out, it may have been a “bedraggled-looking assemblage” there that night, but appearances can be deceptive.
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
‘Mr. Netanyahu has also undermined Israeli security by burning bridges with Israel’s most important friend in the region, Turkey. Now there is also the risk of clashes in the Mediterranean between Israeli and Turkish naval vessels. That’s one reason Defense Secretary Leon Panetta scolded the Israeli government a few days ago for . . . ” (Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, October 6).
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